The article I wrote, ‘Are the Masked Boobies Home for Good In Tubbataha? A rollercoaster ride on the wings of hope’, was published at the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership website in 2020. It was filled with hope and a smattering of apprehension and despair. Then, I was confident that we would see the resurgence of the masked booby Sula dactylatra population in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Flyway Network Site (EAAF 123) in the Philippines.
This singular pair of masked boobies known in the Philippines, has been with us since 2019. The second batch of eggs that it laid resulted in one chick that grew to five months, but which the rangers later found dead for unknown reasons.
Marine park rangers regularly monitor the seabirds of Tubbataha, with special attention given to this finicky pair. Rangers built a complicated drainage network to rival that of ancient Rome to ensure the nests remain dry during the rainy season. They would practically walk on tiptoes around these celebrities for fear of causing undue stress.
Five times more the pair laid eggs, usually a couple, and these would disappear without a trace, a mystery we have since brought to the attention of seabird experts worldwide through various seabird expert groups. Luckily for us, many were willing to help. Dr. Enriqueta Velarde of the Pacific Seabird group introduced us to Dr. Roxana Torres of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who specializes in boobies. Like us, Dr. Torres was disconcerted by the breeding failure of our Masked Boobies.
At her behest, we tagged the two Masked Booby with metal and plastic ring bands during our seabird census in May 2022 for identification. We are poised to install a camera trap to monitor their breeding behavior and to identify the ‘thief’ of their precious eggs. And so, it is time to wait, to be patient, and to observe in silence.
This couple laid seven pairs of eggs in two years, laying eggs almost every other month during the first quarter of this year alone. It earnestly wants to survive and is working double-time to perpetuate the species. As it is, we can but wait and do what little we can to unmask the future that lies ahead. Meanwhile, the Masked Booby colony we dream of will have to wait.
If you have any advice for us, we would be so happy to hear from you!
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Learn more about this site: https://www.eaaflyway.net/philippines/
Prepared by Angelique Songco, Superintendent, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Flyway Network Site